The Town of Onley was one of several Eastern Shore towns that sprang up along the railroad in the mid-1880s. The village was originally known as “Crossroads”. While Wachapreague was a bustling seaside town, Onancock an important Chesapeake Bayside port and Accomac the center of local government, the area, then known simply as “Crossroads,” had little to draw interest.
The opening of the New York, Philadelphia and Norfolk Railroad (NYP&N) on Virginia’s Eastern Shore was the catalyst for the development of many of the towns in the region. Onley is a prime example. Once the rail line opened a ticket office and warehouse for freight at the location, a new era and a new name sprung forth for the tiny village. No longer was it just an intersection connecting Wachapreague, Onancock and Accomac but rather a destination in its own right. The town was then called Onley. It is possible that the name Onley is derived from “Only”, the nearby estate of former Virginia Governor Henry A. Wise. It was then that folks came to Onley for a variety of reasons. Produce farmers came to the market to sell their bounty to produce dealers; local waterman brought their bounty harvested from local waters to sell. The much sought-after goods were then loaded on freight cars and shipped via steam engines to big cities up North.
While the steam engines have long left the tracks and the Produce Exchange building now serves as a church, Onley remains one of the primary centers of commerce on the Eastern Shore. Now boasting more than 60 retail businesses, you will find a hub of shopping, diverse groups of ethnic food eateries, as well as relaxing coffee shops. On the property owned by Eastern Shore Railroad or the old NYP&N, The Society for Preservation of Onley’s Train Station (SPOTS) has preserved the old Onley Railroad Station and created a museum that includes several working modeled trains and tracks. It is a great experience for both children and adults alike.